Mentorship at MIT’s Legatum Center


The Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship provides mentorship for it’s developing entrepreneurial leaders.

During the course of the academic year, our Fellows work with mentors to set achievable milestones and action plans for building their ventures.  Fellows build relationships with mentors who have practice expertise and experience launching and managing a business in a developing country. Mentorship is an important component of the Fellowship program as it supports students in focusing on their entrepreneurial goals as they complete their academic program requirements.

The Legatum Center is one of many MIT entrepreneurship services, many of them offering mentoring services, including MIT VMS and The MIT Sandbox. Mentoring seems to be a key component of MIT’s support for entrepreneurs.

The Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT is a community hub for students, alumni and faculty who seek to accelerate social and economic progress through innovation-driven entrepreneurship (IDE). The Center was founded in order to demonstrate the power of entrepreneurship to catalyze transformation in society and to improve global wellbeing.



DesignX – MIT incubator provides mentorship


designxContinuing the powerful trend in incubators and accelerators, DesignX, the MIT incubator of the School of Architecture  + Planning, uses mentors to help MIT students develop their ventures:

DesignX is an entrepreneurial accelerator for student ventures that aims to transform the built environment, media, and design.  DesignX can help you to launch your ideas into a new venture, design process, or product while you are in school.

The heart of DesignX is an academic workshop in which participants receive financial support to develop their ventures, mentorship by experienced entrepreneurs, and a program of lectures, visits to innovative firms, and networking opportunities.


A critical component of the accelerator program is dedicated mentorship provided by industry practitioners, civic, art and technology leaders.

Our diverse group of mentors will meet with accepted student teams before the start of the Accelerator Workshop in order to mutually match and align interests, resources and skill sets.

DesignX will facilitate and pair mentors with teams.

Mentors will work with the student teams over the Spring semester, providing advice, criticism, and networking to help test and grow an entrepreneurial organization. 

In the case of thesis, students may consider having mentors serve in the role of a reader, working in coordination with their academic advisor. Interactions with mentors will undoubtedly vary based on team and topic, but may include assistance with:
– advancing design concepts
– crafting a business plan

– structuring user surveys or tests

– connecting with strategic partners

– accessing target markets and envisioning growth strategies

– developing a prototype, beta product or service

As part of the Accelerator Workshop, mentors may also offer targeted workshops or lectures focused on their area of business expertise or on an element of entrepreneurship specific for the built environment.

I was very pleased to have one of my MIT Venture Mentoring Service teams be accepted for DesignX, which has a selective competition for student teams.

The Mentor Manifesto by David Cohen

David G. Cohen is one of the founders of TechStars. I was an early mentor at TechStars Boston at the invitation of David and Brad Feld, but at that time it appeared that the expectation was that mentors would also be angel investors in TechStars companies, and not being an investor wasn’t comfortable, so I dropped out after a few mentoring sessions and moved on to the MIT Venture Mentoring Service, which does not allow mentors to investor or work with mentees in any way other than mentorship.

Needless to say TechStars under David’s leadership has been an incredible success.

I just came across his Mentor Manifesto on Medium which is an excellent document for all mentors (and mentees).

I’m going to take the liberty of posting the entire bulleted list here:

The Mentor Manifesto

  • Be socratic.
  • Expect nothing in return (you’ll be delighted with what you do get back).
  • Be authentic / practice what you preach.
  • Be direct. Tell the truth, however hard.
  • Listen too.
  • The best mentor relationships eventually become two-way.
  • Be responsive.
  • Adopt at least one company every single year. Experience counts.
  • Clearly separate opinion from fact.
  • Hold information in confidence.
  • Clearly commit to mentor or do not. Either is fine.
  • Know what you don’t know. Say I don’t know when you don’t know. “I don’t know” is preferable to bravado.
  • Guide, don’t control. Teams must make their own decisions. Guide but never tell them what to do. Understand that it’s their company, not yours.
  • Accept and communicate with other mentors that get involved.
  • Be optimistic.
  • Provide specific actionable advice, don’t be vague.
  • Be challenging/robust but never destructive.
  • Have empathy. Remember that startups are hard.

It’s hard to improve on David’s list. Though The Wall Street Journal recently had an interesting article on the difference between empathy and compassion: The Perils of Empathy in politics and policy, trying to feel the pain of others is a bad idea. Empathy distorts our reasoning and makes us biased, tribal and often cruel. though it’s not clear to me that these perils apply to mentoring founders.


Accelerators and incubators in Greater Boston area


This useful graphic is courtesy of David Chang. formerly an entrepreneur/operator at web and mobile startups and now an angel investor.

David also kindly sent me his excellent presentation on raising money, included in this post Best presentation I’ve seen on raising money for new entrepreneurs.

Of course, the graphic would be even more useful if there were links to each of the accelerators and incubators; a good project for an intern or volunteer!

I like the way David has divided up the accelerators/incubators into corporate, university and independent.

What interests me is that virtually all of these entities provide mentoring in one form or another.

But the question is what is the difference between and incubator and an accelerator?

Wikipedia makes this differentiation:

While traditional business incubators are often government-funded, generally take no equity, and focus on biotech, financial technology (FinTech), medical technology (MedTech), clean tech[2] or product-centric companies, accelerators can be either privately or publicly funded and focus on a wide range of industries. Unlike business incubators, the application process for seed accelerators is open to anyone, but highly competitive.? 

The Wikipedia entries on business incubators and seed accelerators are worth reading. And each article has references for those wanting to dive deeper into the subject.


Mentoring available at fintech incubator


wiggs_startup_703514Scott Kirsner’s article in The Boston Globe, Financial startups build momentum in Boston, includes a brief mention of mentoring.

And the DCU FinTech Innovation Center, near South Station, is becoming a clear hub of activity. Run by Digital Federal Credit Union, it offers free office space to selected startups, along with mentorship and access to DCU executives.

The DCU Fintech Innovation Center is unusual in two different ways, one it’s run by a financial services company, and two, it provides startups with access to its executives. Are these trends or one-offs?

Mentoring has become a must-have ingredient for incubators and accelerators. But there enough great mentors to go around?

Mentoring is the linchpin for entrepreneurs in accelerators


The article Accelerators Lend Help to a Business Idea Trying to Catch Fire by John F. Wasik in The New York Times makes very clear the value of mentoring to founders.

“The mentoring is the linchpin,” said Matt Maloney, a co-founder of GrubHub . “The key benefit of the program was being able to model and communicate the power of the business.”

Still, not all accelerators are equal. Mr. Maloney’s advice for start-up owners who are considering one is to look at the people involved. Ms. Smith recommends examining the kind of experienced entrepreneurs the accelerator works with and how much one-on-one advising is offered.

“The top two qualities of the best accelerators for you,”said Prof. Yael Hochberg at Rice University, managing director of the Seed Accelerator Rankings Project., “are fit and experience of the mentors and managing directors.


Mentoring in incubators and accelerators

market-model-for-incubatorsThe article Market Model for Incubators and Accelerators by Darren Oemcke, Geoff Thomas and Ron van Buuren on Medium is an excellent and lengthy overview that has a lot to say about mentoring. I encourage you to read the entire article, but if your sole interest is in mentoring or your are pressed for time here are the mentoring sections.

Mentors will typically be driven by social motives such as ‘giving back’ or a desire to see development in the local community. The risk is being able to attract mentors with the requisite business skills and being able to turn away people who want to mentor, but lack the business skills necessary. There is also risk in that mentors with strong business skills may not be able to translate that advice to a business for which profit is not a motive.
Mentors are characterised in Figure 1 as seeking relationships with entrepreneurs and being selected from a range of specific talent pools. In commercial incubators the assumption is that these relationships will typically be commercial relationships as all other players are engaged in commerce via the platform. In non-commercial platforms there may be more mixed motives and complex complex relationship needs, such as a desire to ‘give back’.
Attracting mentors means providing support for a very wide range of motives, including social motives like ‘giving-back’ and being engaged in an industry, but potentially also more financial motives like being reimbursed or being in a position to provide services to attendees. Managing the motives of mentors and creating the right mentor culture is difficult and a point at which many of these platforms perform poorly, as they do not effectively account for mentors as market participants (treating them as part of the platform) with needs that the platform can meet in various ways.
Mentor motives in commercial incubators are more likely to be commercial (networking and opportunities) and are poorly dealt with if they are seen as being part of the platform, rather than as part of the market that the platform is enabling.A key potential weakness is taking the overall ecosystem for granted, particularly mentors and investors.

Mentors need to be actively managed as part of the market, not part of the platform. When owners view mentors as part of the platform, their needs and motives are not effectively addressed, rather subsumed into the needs and objectives of the platform owners. In small markets where mentor pools are small, the ongoing engagement of mentors is critical and the need to expand mentor networks is pressing.

In a small ecosystem, quality mentors risk becoming ‘tapped-out’. They usually need to run their own businesses, and lead their own lives. A shallow pool of mentors will shrink as mentors are forced to focus on opportunities to build their own businesses. Without effective planning, the pool will not grow to include many successful entrepreneurs, who are very busy with their businesses, to become engaged.

One idea being used is that the platform provides space for some mentors, offering reduced cost of office space, in exchange for support for the entrepreneurs and higher opportunity to effectively engage, define a benefit and align mentors with the platform. Another is deliberately creating linkages with or relationships with multiple mentors. Adelaide has a large number of consultants — generally mature and well connected businesspeople, who choose consulting for lifestyle reasons, or due to the lack of corporate positions in Adelaide with whom closer connections would provide access to their networks and their potential early-stage investment.